Being a pitcher at any level puts a lot of stress on the body and the arm, and too many kids are not functionally strong enough nor are their bodies able to deal with the stress that pitching causes. Pitching requires your body to be stable and mobile at the same time; some muscles and joints are stable, and some have to be mobile in order to properly deliver a pitch. Most people are tight and immobile, have limited range of motion in two or three areas of their body, and constantly complain of pain after they pitch. Whether you are 5’5” 100lbs, or 6’5” 225lbs, and whether you can bench 300lbs or not, has nothing to do with your body’s functional strength, believe it or not. Everyone has a unique body that requires specialization and focus in specific areas in the weight room, however, there are a multitude of exercises that you can do to ensure stability and mobility where your body needs it the most, no matter what your age and size are. Here are my top five exercises for pitchers:
2 Hand KB Swing
The Two Hand KB Swing is one of the best exercises for a pitcher to activate the nervous system and get the fast twitch muscles going. It puts very little stress on the shoulder and elbow and enables your hips to fire into full extension, relax, then fire again. Just like pitching, your hips are relaxed on the down swing, activate during the swing and at the peak, and then relax again as the bell comes down. One of the most important skill to have as an athlete in general is knowing when to turn OFF muscles at the right time. You need to be able to go from a relaxed state to 100% tension to relaxed again all in a matter of seconds in order to perform at your maximum potential. The Two Hand KB Swing is at the top of my list, because it activates the nervous system, is a dynamic move that teaches the body to turn on and off muscles very quickly, and puts almost no stress on the elbow and shoulder.
The Arm Bar is another great exercise that does a couple of things for the body. It activates the muscles in your shoulder and gets blood flowing through your arm, making it a great exercise for recovery after an outing. It also enables the hips to be mobile while the shoulders stay put, making it a great tool to increase hip and shoulder separation. The Arm Bar is not designed to build strength and therefore should be done with a light kettlebell. The stabilization of the shoulders combined with the activation and mobilization of the hips makes the Arm Bar a key exercise to ensure functional mobility that most pitchers desperately need.
The Turkish-Get Up is just an all-around fantastic exercise for any athlete looking to increase mobility. It is an exercise that allows the body to rotate around a completely stable foot, which mimics almost all rotational athletic movements. It activates almost every muscle in your body, including your shoulders, core, forearms, and legs, all in one exercise. The best part about the Get Up is that it does not have to be done with a heavy weight, making it ideal for pitchers. Ideally, pitchers don’t want anything too heavy to be going over our heads, so the fact that this exercise accomplishes so much with so little weight makes it a gold mine for pitchers. You can do this move all day without risking injury or stress on the elbow or shoulder. You can even do this exercise with a shoe instead of a weight, which I recommend from time to time to make sure the form is right. An increase in mobility around a stable point, increased blood flow to the arm, and an activation of almost every muscle group in your body is what the Turkish Get-Up has to offer.
4. Double Rack Front Squat
After I pitch, the main muscles that get sore are my legs, and that is because my legs and hips are where I get most of my velocity from. By using my legs, my elbow and shoulder are not being strained as much as they would be if I were trying to throw as hard as I can with just my arm, as a lot of kids do. Most of the time if you look at an untrained pitcher, their shoulders and hips fly open at the same time, leaving their arm behind and causing it to drag through release point. That constitutes throwing with “all-arm.” The Double Rack Front Squat is one of the best exercises for pitchers who are looking to build stamina on the mound. Your legs need a lot of strength to pitch a complete game, and if they are weak, they will start to give out in the middle innings of a game, causing you to start using “all-arm” and can lead to arm injury. You need a strong foundation in your legs to have stamina, and that is exactly what the Double Rack Front Squat has to offer. The Kettlebells are in front of your body and resting on your forearms, so there is no strain on the UCL (tommy john tendon) or the shoulder. As you go into a squat, the bells will pull your weight forward, which your body naturally corrects by engaging your core. In terms of building strength, a pitcher’s best friend in the weight room should be the Double Rack Front Squat.
Med-Ball Side Toss
The Med-Ball Side Toss is one of the best active exercises you can do to increase hip and shoulder separation. By loading the hands and shoulders back as you step forward, it mimics any rotational movement. Whether it is a swing at the plate or a throw from shortstop or a pitch from the pitcher, hip and shoulder separation is a necessity for power at the plate, strength of the throw from the field, or velocity on the mound. The great thing about the Med-Ball Side Toss is that it activates your nervous system as well as creating hip and shoulder separation. It also is great for recovery after an outing as it gets the heart rate up and the blood pumping through your arm.
All of these exercises can be done without causing stress to the elbow or the shoulder, and will strengthen the muscles around them at the same time. No heavy weights are required. A pitcher’s real best friend is a healthy arm and a healthy body. These exercises are a step in the right direction towards a healthy arm and dominance on the mound. Train hard, train fast, and most importantly, train smart.
Dynamic Sport Performance